Why Vinyl Records are Becoming Popular Again
By Chad Upton | Editor
There have always been cool record shops in the hip parts of town hocking vinyl to the enthusiasts. But, it had been a long time since the major record stores carried them, until last year.
Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe not. But if you’ve been into BestBuy recently, some of their stores have a massive vinyl record selection. A year ago, they had a few, now they have hundreds. It’s not every store, but some of them.
For many people, it’s probably hard to imagine that anyone would go back to using records.
Records are not convenient to use. They don’t play for very long, about 26 minutes before you have to flip it over or put a new one on. You can’t easily skip songs at the push of a button. They have to be kept very clean to sound good. The needle drags on the record so the sound degrades over time and worst of all, they are expensive.
Since all of these drawbacks are easily overcome by digital formats like CDs and MP3s, it surely makes people wonder, why are vinyl records making a mainstream comeback?
It’s a good question and to understand the answer, we have to know a little bit about the difference between digital and analog recordings.
Digital recordings are great because the data doesn’t change over time. You can playback a CD or MP3 thousands of times and it will sound exactly the same every time. But, although that recording is the same every time, it’s not necessarily a perfect representation of the live music that it is a recording of.
Most musical instruments are analog, when a guitar string is plucked or a drum is hit, that object vibrates at a certain speed, causing an analog sound wave to travel across the room and make your eardrum vibrate. Our brain interprets that vibration as sound. In a recording, that sound is received by a microphone and recorded. During playback, that information is turned back into sound waves when your speakers vibrate. Speakers are rated in quality by their ability to vibrate exactly like the instruments did that made the original sound in the recording.
On a CD or in an MP3s, there are no such thing as waves. Everything is recorded as a one or zero. So, to make waves, they stores lots of ones and zeros for every second of music (44,100/second on a CD). These ones and zeros approximately represent the original wave that was produced by the vibrating guitar string. The key part of that is “approximately.” If you’ve ever tried to make a round object with LEGO, you know what I mean. You can get it to look almost round, but it’s not perfect, it’s kind of jagged.
Digital recordings are also jagged. Digital players have an analog to digital converter that tries to guess what the wave form would have looked like, based on the jagged forms that are made with the digital data. Because there are so many ones and zeros, it sounds almost exactly like the original recording and some players are better than others at filling in those gaps.
But, our ears are not digital. Our ears are analog. When you get your ear next to a real instrument and pluck its strings or press its keys, you hear a timbre, a texture in the sound that is very difficult to reproduce. There are subtleties and nuances that often get lost in recordings.
Record enthusiasts like analog recordings because they more closely represent sound in the way that our hearing works. If you use an analog amplifier, there is no digital to analog conversion, making the experience very similar to being at the live recording.
Records are also large (up to 12 inches in diameter) and maybe they only play for 26 minutes and show their age over time. But, that has a certain romance, like a hand written letter instead of an email. Email has its obvious benefits, but when you get a hand written letter, it is special.
Records are not for everyone and they’re not for every situation. I don’t expect to see portable record players any time soon and I wouldn’t give up my MP3 player either.
Bonus Secrets: The Olympic Medals in the photo in yesterday’s post are the medals won by Nancy Greene in the 1968 Winter Olympics. She also carried the Vancouver 2010 torch when it passed through Kamloops, BC.